The Cat obsession

Spencer studies a catI’ve mentioned Spencer’s interest in cats before. He’s never gotten completely close to one yet, but based on his body language and progress, we’re pretty sure that if he could get close to a cooperative cat, he’d just be curious and want to play with it. The problem is when the cat is hostile (often triggering tension that can bubble over into aggression) or runs away (triggering his instinct to chase) or is inaccessible behind a fence (which can lead to frustration building up and bubbling over). We’ve noticed the same thing with the hedgehog. When he catches it, he just plays with it or tries to store it in his crate like a treasure. When it’s on the other side of the fence, he gets frustrated and goes into a non-stop barking spree.

Recently his interest in cats has turned into a full-blown obsession.

  • As we walk down the street, he peers under every car and into every garden, carefully studying statues, watering cans and anything that might just be a cat sitting there.
  • He has occasionally refused to go into the big park and asked to walk in the surrounding residential neighborhood instead. I have reasons to believe this is partially due to the fact that he has noticed there are precious few cats in the park and many more in people’s yards.
  • The other day, I took him to the big park and left the car in front of the main entrance. We walked in and around the castle. He then veered left at the next intersection, he went left again and then straight on until he had walked me two gates down from where we came in (nearly a kilometre) and then he walked straight out the gate and up to a fence where he had spent 20 minutes in a face-to-face confrontation with a cat a few days earlier.

As long as he doesn’t start barking and annoying people, I generally let him look at cats. I talk in the maniacal Happy Voice and try to leave the leash loose so he understands cats are OK. I also try to give him goodies as long as he is remaining calm, but he’s often too focused on the cat to eat. I generally try to control the distance, keeping him far enough back that he won’t get overly emotional, but sometimes cats run in front of us or are hiding in unexpected places.

The picture at the start of the article is from an encounter this morning. We could barely see the cat under a bush behind a fence, but Spencer must have smelled it. He spent at least 10 minutes looking at it. You can see from his body language that he’s on high alert, but not aggressive. He’s on his tippy toes and his ears are forward in curiosity. The cat had just modulated from a low growl to a higher-pitched whine in an attempt to convince Spencer to move on.

After about ten minutes, I finally managed to convince him to follow me, but he clearly wanted to go back or to go looking for cats in other gardens.

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